I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Doomed Macaroons

If this post weren't mandatory, I'd just as soon forget all about my latest Daring Baker Challenge episode. Just sweep it right under the rug along with the rejected crumbs that my dog refuses to snort up from the kitchen floor. But, I suppose being accountable allows us to learn from our mistakes and helps others to learn as well.

Here's what I learned from this month's challenge:

(1) I won't be buying almond flour again anytime soon. At least not until I get a pay raise or win the lottery. $11.50 for a pound of flour is for the rich and famous, not the nearly destitute and barely remembered.

(2) My macaroon making/baking skills stink.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

I was excited when I saw this month's challenge ~ I've spent alot of time admiring Helene's absolutely gorgeous macaroons and seeing as how this recipe only contained four ingredients, I figured it couldn't be too difficult (<--that's cocky Alison talking there and we all know what happens when she runs her mouth.)

Having never made macaroons before and not knowing what each stage of the preparation was supposed to look like, I'm not really sure what went wrong. My egg whites, having set out overnight, were room temperature per the recipe. I beat them into a nice stiff peak (I'm wondering at this point if I should have beaten them into submission until they gave me a stiffer, glossy finish like a traditional meringue?) I added my flour/sugar combination in thirds even though my sifter did not like having to deal with the $11.50/lb almond flour (did I mention that stuff was ridiculously expensive?!) Had I known it was a little too coarse to go through my sifter easily, I would have sifted before I started anything else and then added it because it took FOREVER. Maybe taking so long to sift and add was the culprit?

It had been my intention to do an espresso macaroon with blackberry filling inspired by a recipe I saw in the now defunct Gourmet magazine some time ago, so I added 2 tablespoons of espresso powder with the other dry ingredients and and tried really hard not to over fold. Heck, I don't even like to fold laundry so I don't think I over-invested time with this task either. I'm just grasping at straws here, people.

My stencils were drawn on the parchment paper and right up until this moment in time, I seriously thought I was breezing through this challenge.

And then....

Brace yourself 'cause it ain't pretty....

Are you ready?
My piped mounds of batter turned into oozing puddles of sludge. I knew I had a problem but didn't quite know how to fix it. I went ahead and baked the first batch thinking they were still salvageable. With the next batch I tried piping smaller mounds but that didn't help either. There were no "feet" that seems to be the signature trademark of a perfect macaroon. There was no Tartelette-like gorgeous cookies waiting to be filled.

It was mandatory that we fill the macaroons with our choice of filling, but honestly, I wasn't going to waste more time trying to salvage my poor, failed attempt at spending all day in the kitchen cookies. So without further adieu, I present my macaroons just before they filled my trash can.....

Despite my failure, I want to thank Ami of Baking Without Fear for presenting this challenge. I will eventually get brave enough to tackle the macaroon challenge again, but long after this memory has faded. And I'm sure if perusing food blogs is your thing, you'll no doubt see many, many posts of gorgeous macaroons from this month's challenge.

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I want my Mummy

Halloween is one of my favorite times of year. I mean, when else can you dress up like your alter ego and parade around in public without a second look from passers-by? Well, okay, maybe a few people did do a double take but I think they were just jealous of my turkey basting abilities.

In addition to the cool, crisp air and the ability to dress and act like a fool, I also love these chocolate mummy cookies that I found a couple of years ago on Baking Bites. They've been in my "To Try" file all this time and I was elated to run across them the other day while looking for Fall recipes. The dough was very easy to work with and held its shape during baking. Nicole recommends melting white chocolate for the mummy wrapping and for some reason I never have luck working with white chocolate. I'm sure it has something to do with the amount of cocoa butter in the chips, but either way I had to add a touch of vegetable oil while melting to get it to the right consistency for piping (note added to her original recipe below). Nicole also mentions that she has cut the cookies into animal shapes and piped skeleton bones on them. What fun! Run on over to the Halloween section of her blog and check out the rest of her spooktacular ideas.

Mummy Cookies with White Chocolate Wrapping
From Nicole at

3/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla extract.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. With a mixer on low speed (or by hand), gradually beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture until the dough just comes together and no streaks of flour remain.
Divide dough in half, shape each piece into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours (overnight is fine) until firm.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Working with half of the dough at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it is approx 1/8 thick. A little thicker is ok, but it should be less than 1/4 inch because the cookies will puff up during baking. Use lightly floured cookie cutters (mine were mostly 2-3 inches) to cut out various shapes from the dough. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet. Cookie dough may be balled up and rerolled a second time. Repeat with remaining refrigerated dough.

Bake cookies for 11-13 minutes, until they are slightly firm at the edges (you can check by poking a corner carefully with a fingertip). Depending on the exact shape of your cookie cutter, baking time may need to be slightly lengthened if you want very large cookies. Cool for 5-10 minutes on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 3-4 dozen cookies, depending, of course, on size and shape of your cutter.

For the mummy wrapping, you will need:
Melted white chocolate, about 4-oz.

Melt the white chocolate in a small, microwave safe bowl by heating it in 30-45 second increments and stirring frequently until smooth (you may need to add a touch of vegetable oil to the chips while melting to get the correct consistency). Scrape into piping bag with a small spatula. Make the “wrapping” by piping horizontal and vertical lines along the contours of your cooled cookie shapes, as though the gingerbread person/unicorn, etc. is wrapped up in white bandages.

Allow cookies to sit for 30 minutes or so on a wire rack until the icing completely sets before eating.

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I should have known better.....

But sometimes I just don't trust myself.

How many times have you read directions and thought to yourself, "Self, this isn't going to work" but totally disregarded your gut instinct and followed the directions verbatim?

The Warm Chocolate Cakes with Mascarpone Cream featured in July 2009 edition of Food & Wine touted the decadent individual treats as Top Chef winner Hosea Rosenberg's rendition of a Black Forest cake and said nothing about the chocolate treasures having the liquidy inside consistency of a molten chocolate lava cake (of course, the term "warm" in the title should have given me a clue. Oh, and the baking directions do indicate the center will be "slightly jiggly" but who reads that stuff?) Even the photograph showed the cakes turned out of the ramekin and served "right side up" which is usually not typical of the molten lava type cakes. And the baking time of 15 minutes....well, that should have been my next clue that the cake innards would be as hot as molten lava itself. Surely a critically acclaimed culinary magazine featuring a recipe from a classically trained chef knows more than a dumb ole girl who pays good money to be blonde.

But noooooo! Even though I knew better, I followed the baking and cooling instructions spot on and tried to unmold my cakes right-side up per the photo. And just as my gut was telling me NOT to do it that way, words spewed forth from my volcanically erupting mouth while the hotter-than-the-hinges-of-Hell molten chocolate lava splashed forth.

Not realizing these were in fact lava cakes, I had planned to make these cakes the day before a dinner party with the intentions of storing them overnight so it worked out well that I left them in the ramekins. I refrigerated them overnight and they set up to a fudge-like consistency and were just as delicious as what they would have been right out of the oven warm. If you are a chocoholic, I definitely recommend these because they were so very rich ~ I couldn't finish my portion. The mascarpone cream was very tasty and I topped the cakes with some Black Cherry Cognac Sauce by Stonewall Kitchen. It's one of my all-time favorite ice cream toppings and worked perfectly for these uber rich cakes. Next time, I'll follow my gut. And my gut is telling you to try these cakes the next time you need an easy but impressive dessert!

Warm Chocolate Cakes with Mascarpone Cream
by Hosea Rosenberg
Food & Wine, July 2009
Serves 6

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, plus shavings for garnish (optional)
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter
3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup mascarpone (8 ounces)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
About 1/2 cup brandied cherries or kirsch-soaked sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 375°. Coat six 6-ounce ramekins with butter, and dust lightly with flour. Set the ramekins on a sturdy baking sheet. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate with the butter; let cool.
In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the eggs, yolks and sugar on high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the chocolate, then fold in the cake flour just until no streaks remain.
Spoon the batter into the prepared ramekins and bake for 15 minutes, until the cakes have risen, the tops are dry and the centers are slightly jiggly. Let stand for 5 minutes.
In a bowl, beat the cream with the vanilla seeds, brown sugar and lemon zest until soft peaks form. Add the mascarpone and lemon juice and beat until blended.
Run the tip of a small knife around each cake to loosen it, then unmold onto plates. Spoon the mascarpone cream onto the cakes and garnish with the brandied cherries and chocolate shavings

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Bubba and Forrest Would Be Proud

Benjamin Buford "Bubba" Blue, whether fighting the Vietcong or recounting life in Alabama, had only one thing on his mind and that was shrimp.

Anyway, like I was sayin', shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey's uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There's pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that's about it.

Apparently I've been channelling Bubba because everything coming out of my kitchen these last few weeks seems to feature shrimp. And I'm sure it doesn't hurt that my beloved Harris Teeter occasionally features the crustaceans on sale for Buy One, Get One Free. I'm such a sucker for the BOGO marketing pitch. While I realize I can buy one for half price, just the thought of getting something FREE is enough to drive me to fill up my cart with twice as much stuff, even knowing that I already have enough stock in my freezer to feed Bubba and Forrest's entire Army platoon. The lure of free stuff is hard to ignore.

Despite a traumatic catering experience some years ago that caused me to want to swear off shrimp for good (the actual swearing of nasty oaths is still pretty fresh in my mind too), I do adore the little buggers. They're quick, easy, and versatile and can be featured as an appetizer or main entree as well as ingredients in soups and salads.

Click here for more shrimp inspired dishes from my blog, or go out and pick up a copy of The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Cookbook. In the meantime I hope you'll enjoy two of my most recent kitchen creations.

Creamy Shrimp with Corn and Bacon
featured in Real Simple Magazine, April 2009

Serves 4

1 cup long-grain white rice
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
4 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 10-ounce package frozen corn

1. In a medium saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, combine rice, 1 1/4 cups water, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Stir once, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 18 minutes. (Do not lift the lid or stir) Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes; fluff with a fork before serving.

2. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel, let cool, then break into pieces. Drain all but about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from skillet*.

3. Heat the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Stir in the shrimp, corn, and salt and pepper. Simmer until cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the bacon; serve over the rice.

*Okay, so no magazine in its right mind is going to suggest that you actually cook something in bacon grease (God forbid!), so that little tweak is my own. Pork fat rules!

Shrimp with Orzo, Chickpeas & Feta

4 servings

1 1/2 cups orzo (about 9 ounces)
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 lb. shrimp, peeled, deveined and cooked
1 15- to 15 1/2-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half

Cook orzo in large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, stirring occasionally. Drain orzo.
Whisk olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and minced garlic to blend in large serving bowl. Add drained garbanzo beans, cooked orzo, shrimp, tomatoes and chopped fresh oregano; toss salad to coat. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. Gently stir in crumbled feta cheese. Serve orzo salad warm or at room temperature

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